Non-essential retail stores across Toronto and Peel Region will reopen to customers again next week for the first time in more than three months as the two regions move to the grey zone of Ontario’s tiered reopening framework, the province announced Friday.
With the exception of stores that offer essential goods, retail shops in both regions were forced to suspend in-person shopping in late November due to rising community transmission of the novel coronavirus.
But the Ford government announced Friday that those businesses will be permitted to open as of 12:01 a.m. Monday and the stay-at-home order currently in effect in Toronto and Peel will be lifted as the two areas transition back into the colour-coded framework.
Condo towers dot the Toronto skyline as a pedestrian makes his way through the COVID-19 restricted winter landscape on Thursday January 28, 2021. CMHC says that rental vacancies are up in Canada’s largest cities with rents rising too.
In the grey zone, many businesses will remain closed, however all non-essential retail stores will be permitted to open with 25 per cent of their regular indoor capacity. Supermarkets, pharmacies, and convenience stores will be allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity.
Entering the grey zone also means that outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people will be permitted once again.
"Our government is taking a safe and cautious approach to returning to the framework and due to our progress, all regions of the province will soon be out of the provincewide shutdown," Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a news release.
"Despite this positive step forward, a return to the framework is not a return to normal. As we continue vaccinating more Ontarians, it remains critical for everyone to continue to follow public health measures and stay home as much as possible to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities."
Other parts of the GTA, including the regions of York, Halton, and Durham, are all in the red zone of the framework, which allows restaurants to offer in-person dining and other businesses, such as gyms and hair salons, to open.
The province announced Friday that the North Bay Parry Sound District health unit will be moving to the red zone on Monday.
Toronto trying to 'avoid another lockdown,' Tory says
But the medical officers of health in both Toronto and Peel Region requested last week that their respective local public health units be placed into the most restrictive category instead in order to prevent a possible surge in new cases triggered by more transmissible COVID-19 variants.
Speaking to CP24 on Friday, Mayor John Tory said that while some members of the public are keen to see restrictions eased even further in Toronto, the city's case numbers are still too high.
"A lot of people talk about, 'Well we should be in red so that restaurants can open,' and I really wish they could but the red zone has a number of about 40 cases per 100,000 of population (and) we are presently at about 72. Peel is at about 100," he said.
"So these are numbers that are still of concern. The variants are still of concern, they've kind of doubled in the last week or so."
Toronto has been under lockdown for more than 100 consecutive days and the mayor acknowledged Friday that some residents are not happy with his support for continued closures.
"I believe that what we are doing here is avoiding a lockdown down the road," Tory said.
"I think the worst result possible would be to have a lockdown say in four or six weeks from now just as the patio season is getting into swing and just as the restaurants really have a chance to have a lot more people patronizing them."
The mayor said he does not believe Toronto residents want to endure another lockdown later this spring.
"I just don’t think people want that above and beyond anything else. The grey zone will allow us a cautious reopening that is consistent with what the best practices have been all over the world when you are coming out of a big wave," he said.
"I just think it is the right thing to do. It may not be the popular thing to do."
On Friday, the province confirmed that seven other public health units will be transitioning to different categories of the reopening framework: